Young Inventors Enjoy a Big Week at Hanawalt

Hanawalt Elementary School hosted Camp Invention

There is the traditional summer camp complete with bunk beds, poison ivy, homesickness, mosquitos and lousy food.

And then there is Camp Invention, a weeklong day camp experience with twin emphases on teamwork and problem-solving that’s been going on all this week at Hanawalt Elementary School.

Camp Invention is where Inspector Gadget might meet Thomas Edison. It’s a national program but Hanawalt is the only host site in Des Moines Public Schools. You know that scene in Apollo 13 where a bunch of NASA engineers dump a boxful of sophisticated equipment and materials like duct tape, plastic bags and cardboard on the table and start spitballing ways to get astronauts back from the moon in a hobbled spacecraft? That’s Camp Invention, minus the life/death emergency.

The 130+ 1st through 6th graders have used nothing but recycled materials this week to improvise everything from catapults (aka, Duck Chucking Devices or DCD’s) to seismographs. The room at the end of the hall that looks like it’s full of junk? That’s the supply room.

The campers are divided into learning modules by age/grade: Cache Dash, Ecoverse, Amazing Atlas, Launchitude (DCD’s) and Geo-Games. The camp is staffed by a combination of district personnel, Hanawalt community volunteers and teenaged alums from past camps.

“I think this is the sixth year that Hanawalt has hosted the camp,” said Julie Hahn from the school’s PTA. “Kids look forward to it. Many of the ones in the upper grade levels have been here before.”

“It’s not like their parents insist they come,” added fellow parent/staffer Kim Johnson as the two tiptoed down a corridor strewn with gizmos in various stages of design and development. “After their first year they want to come back.” Hahn and Johnson know whereof they speak. Between them they have five budding inventors enrolled this week. Imagine how much easier life will be around their houses when the principles the kids have been studying this week are applied at home! Eyes roll at the prospect.

Daily camp activities employ the lighter and artsier sides of science. For instance, the national camp HQ generates a daily newsletter that includes jokes (“A duck walks into a store and asks for lip moisturizer. The cashier says, “Cash or charge?” and the duck says, “Just put it on my bill.”), cheers, riddles, songs and a question of the day. Overall the mood is maybe more Big Bang Theory than Apollo 13. And the result is the annual Inventors’ Showcase on Friday at 2:30 in the Hanawalt gym. Organizers are expecting a big crowd of parents and patent attorneys.

Photos from Hanawalt School’s Camp Invention

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